Chapter 64: First Special Exams: Practical Phase
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The wind weaved through the long blades of grass, sending them in a rhythmic sway from end to end. The soles of my shoes dug into the soft soil underneath as a muddy path of stones and dirt stretched in between the vast grasslands. Yellow, green, grass of various colors gleamed under the harsh morning sun as if in competition with each other to see who can grow taller.

I covered my eyes with my hand and winced. 

Alongside the loud sounds of the fluttering grass came the louder sound of an engine's knocking. Standing a few meters away from the other end of the portal was an enormous green car laden with camouflage patterns. A Willys jeep with only a front screen and an open roof stood imposingly on the path, it's giant steering wheel was the size of a car's bottom wheels. The diesel-fueled vehicle housed two familiar figures in it.

Don Brocious adjusted his sunglasses as he looked at the rows of students staring around the grasslands. His white beard and white hair completely defeated the purpose of the camouflage military clothes he wore, but judging from his smirk, that was just for style. Behind him, holding the steering wheel was professor Artie. He showed me a thumbs up and flashed his teeth when our eyes met.

“It has been a while, students!“ Don Brocious began, his voice barely overpowering the sound of the engine. “I see some of my favorite faces here.“

Don Brocious faked a cough and snapped his finger. Taking that as his cue, Professor Arite stepped on the accelerator and made the car run in a circle. Dirt kicked up and clouded around our eyes when the car stopped and Don Brocious spread his hands.

“Welcome to the practical phase of the exams!“

“Ahak! Ahak!“

***

The dust and the coughing fit amongst the students settled down after Mr. Claudio came through the portal and blew it all away. We still had to walk a little before reaching the site of the exams.

Professor Artie drove the car in the lead at a very slow pace, while Don Brocious climbed on the back and faced us. 

“Let's explain the rules while we reach the site. Some of you may have figured it out already, but the practical phase of the first special exams is to conquer a dungeon.“

There were no surprised 'oohs' or 'aahs,' but everyone nervously gulped and clenched their weapons and fists instead. It was similar to the exam we had during the entrance test, but to compare this with that would be nothing less than a fool's job. 

“Sir,” Jack raised his hand and asked. “What kind of dungeon is it?“

Don Brocious thought for a few seconds and then clicked his tongue. “No fun if I tell you, right?“

I could see Professor Artie and Mr. Claudio nodding at his words. Goddamn sadists.

“We want you to get as much experience of a dungeon as possible. Any new dungeon exploration is filled with troubles, on top of the monster, you also have to look out for rouge awakeners and criminals trying to take the spoils for themselves. As if that isn't enough, you sometimes also have to doubt your own teammates and fellow awakeners, especially in low-leveled dungeons due to the competition. So…”

He raised two of his fingers and said. 

“You will be divided into two teams. There's no good or bad in there, we're all doing the same thing, so both teams will have the same set of rules.“ His voice lowered and he leaned slightly closer. “One, you have to go ahead while trying to make sure your team wins. We can't have criminals or villains taking over the spoils of the dungeon, can we? For this effect, you can feel free to attack the people of the other team as well.“ 

Don Brocious then flicked his second finger in front of us. “And two, you absolutely cannot attack anyone in your own team. We can't have traitors, even ones made by chance or through misunderstandings in the dungeon. In an environment like that, attacking your teammates is admitting you are worse than dogs. Doing so will result in an immediate foul.“

Infighting. 

Why? What are they planning?

A few nervous murmurs spread among the students at his words. This clearly meant it was a team battle inside a dungeon. A three-way tango. We weren't divided into good or evil sides. Inside the dungeon, none of that mattered. The only thing that counted was victory, regardless of the means. But this was a real dungeon, one that wasn't completely under the Academy's control, there was only one dungeon in the world like that. So why would they ask us to fight in such a place?

“Oh, almost forgot,” Don Brocious said. “You won't be able to tell who is in your team. The only way to find that out will be to ask the other person. The losing team will face a penalty, so be careful.“

As if cold water had been splashed on everyone's faces, their eyes widened at his words. To not lose, you had to fight. But fighting could very well lead to loss. The personal responsibility here was magnitudes stronger than the team one, so it was safe for me to assume most people will not be fighting each other. How could I use that, I wondered.

Right then, one student at the forefront raised his hand and asked a question. 

“Sir! How will we know which team we are in, will you be telling us all right here?“

Don Brocious stared at the student and started clapping his hands. “Splendid! Splendid question!“ he said. “You see—”

“—We're here,” cutting off his words, professor Artie announced our arrival.

{Here? Nothing has changed??}

I nodded at the system's window. The grasslands were still the same, the only difference was that we were much deeper in them now. The blades of green and yellow fluttered around and the dirt road underneath was the same as before, where had we reached?

Don Brocious coughed and turned to face the front of the Willys jeep, his back facing all of us. We looked at him in anticipation as he ran a hand through his beard and snapped his fingers.

A tempest of mana crackled in the air.

The bright blue sky turned green as Don Brocious' mana spread into the place. No, the sky started collapsing. The air cracked and fell off, revealing a sight completely different from what we were seeing mere seconds away. As if a gate had formed into space leading to another world, an arch formed mid-air in the grasslands.

Professor Artie unhesitantly drove into the arch, and Mr. Claudio pushed us ahead from behind. I passed through the crackling green pathway and entered grasslands similar to the one I had just been in. Long gray tables and tents filled with computer screens and machines sat on the sides where there was nothing but grass moments ago. Around 7 other teachers moved around the place with files and binders in their hands and about a dozen others technicians and experts moved were setting up the devices all over the place. 

Don Brocious casually stepped out of the jeep and observed us as we stared at the sudden change around us while professor Artie parked the car with the rows of other cars standing behind the tents.

The blue sky of the grasslands had turned green, the light reflecting around in a dome-shaped space that one could only imagine the size of. 

At its center, an imposing green gate spread out its fangs in all directions.

This was… a dungeon.

***

Mr. Claudio went around the line of students with a crate in his hands, passing each of us a small wristband from inside the crate while Don Brocious took a stand at the front of the class. I took a quick glance at my watch, there were only ten minutes left before the apparent time for the exams to begin.

“The wristbands you students are being given are very special pieces of equipment, it is also the thing that will tell you which team you're on, once you're inside.” Don Brocious said. “As you already know, many things that work on electricity fail in the dungeons, and each piece of equipment has to be recalibrated to work inside after extensive research.“

Special and expensive. I leaned to the side and looked at the wristband that Mr. Claudio was passing around. For the hype-up, the design was slightly crappy. 

“The deciding factor of your examinations, the determinant of your performance, shall be the number of points you gain in the end. The dungeon in front of you is a rather unique persistent-type dungeon. Every monster inside is allotted a different amount of points that the wristband will scan and allocate to you. The monsters, some of their remnants like mana crystals, and even rare items and relics found inside the dungeon will give you points. The points you earn… will be your final score in the practical tests.“

At the same time, Mr. Claudio had come around to my spot and handed me the band. I carefully took it in my hands and inspected it. 

{The design truly sucks}

So bad. It wasn't worth mentioning.

“Most dungeons have a clearance key, an item or monster that holds the core of the dungeon filled with mana. The clearance key and the boss monster of the dungeon are worth 500 points each.“ A smirk appeared on Don Brocious' face at that moment. “Of course, there is no way to judge your contribution to the situation, so the person who gets it scanned by their wristband first gets all the points. It is the same in the real world! You can contribute all you want, the end is what matters.“

I could see many faces hardening at once from his words. The exam's rules were more hardcore than any of us could have imagined.

“The fouls and penalties we talked about will be detracted as points. For example, the cost of attacking someone of the same team is a negative 500 points. The team that has the lesser total score is the losing team, the penalty for that... well, you'll know soon enough.“

Gasps rang out in the place.

“We'll be keeping watch on all of you inside the dungeon through our drones, but we can't keep eyes on everyone at once. In case an emergency arises, press the button at the center of the wristband thrice in a row, and transmission will be sent to us. It can be dangerous, and you can get injured, but be careful and nothing will happen to you. Don't be foolhardy and jump in danger, that would be your shortcoming and not your bravery, do you understand?“

“Yes, sir!“

Only three more minutes were left till the exams began.

“Alright, then,” Don Brocious said. “Get going… A lot of my money rests on some of your shoulders.“

With that, the Practical Phase of the First Special Exams commenced.

 

Overwhelming support for numbered chapters! I'll add the numbers soon!

Here's a list of the rules for everyone's convenience~

1) Everyone is divided into two teams, each student will know their team inside the dungeon through the wristbands.
2) Each monster/mana-crystal/relic inside the dungeon gives you varying points that have to be scanned by the wristband to count.
3) The boss monster and the clearance key are worth 500 points each. These points are only allocated to the one who scans them first and not to the one who contributes to the victory.
4) The team with lower total points loses, the entire losing team faces a penalty.
5) The goals, other than getting more points, can also be to make sure the opposing team gets fewer points. Violence against the opposite team is fair game.
6) Violence against the same team is absolutely not allowed. The penalty for which is -500 points.
7) The only way, as per Don Brocious, to find out who else is in your team is to ask them.
8) Final points directly translate to the final score in the practical exams, which will, in turn, determine your final rankings.

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